Monthly Archives: December 2011

Keeping an eye on the streets

Crosswalk, schmosswalk

I’ve become more interested in traffic the more I ride my bike. As a pedestrian the only thing I really cared about was how many cars were inching into the crosswalk. Too many, is the consistent answer. I really resent this, given that even on the day after Thanksgiving I was 30-40 times lighter than a compact car, and I am soft and squishy rather than protected by a steel exoskeleton. Would it kill you to leave me some space to cross the street when the walking man says go? By comparison, riding the bike feels at least as safe and much faster.

As an occasional driver, I primarily notice traffic; it’s always brutal. My mom, who lives in a much smaller town, won’t drive in the city at all, not even during hours that I consider sedate. Driving also involves looking for parking, an endeavor that typically makes me wish that traffic was still my biggest problem.

There is a bike light at this intersection, thank goodness, but I still hate it with the fiery passion of a thousand burning suns

I never noticed until fairly recently, when I started thinking about traffic laws and noticing traffic as I rode, what total irreverent scofflaws San Francisco drivers are when it comes to red lights. They’ve never put me in any danger personally (yet?), so it’s more a point of interest, but I did for a couple of days keep a running tally of road users I observed treating traffic laws as optional.

Wednesday

  • Cars running red lights: 2
  • Bicycles running red lights: 1 (also: no helmet, riding after dark without lights, and crossing Masonic –a street notorious for probably half the “car-hits-bicycle” incidents in the entire city–this rider is unlikely to survive the winter)
  • Bicycle riding on the sidewalk: 1 (also pulling one of the few trailers I’ve ever seen outside of Golden Gate Park with kids inside; I sympathize with the problem—the trailer won’t fit in the bike lane!—but maybe better to put those kids on the bike, take an alternate route, whatever)

Thursday

  • Cars running red lights: 3
  • Bicycles running red lights: 0
  • Bicycles riding on the sidewalk: 0

Etc. While this is totally unscientific, my sense is that cyclists running red lights may not be as epidemic as advertised, although I am not exactly haunting hipster hotspots. I find it interesting that I never noticed cars running red lights as a walker and occasional driver, although I do notice it now, whatever form of transportation I’m using.

I find the San Francisco attitude toward running red lights novel, as I wasn’t counting gunning for the yellow and continuing through the intersection even after the light turned red. Short of having spikes pop up from the crosswalk when the light turns red, those seem inevitable. What I counted was stopping at a red light for a while and then, I don’t know, getting bored or something? At which point cars just headed off into the intersection, in a couple of cases into oncoming traffic. In one case the car made a left turn into cross traffic. “I’ve waited long enough, dammit!” The first time I just stared in disbelief—I was at the same light, and although I decided to wait for the green, because I am boring like that, I still caught up to this adventurous driver a block later, waiting behind someone who had apparently not yet lost patience with his own red light. After the second time I started keeping count. The other weekend while we were on our way to the North Bay, a driver started honking wildly and flipping us off as we drove through a green light, because in doing so we’d prevented him from making a left turn on the red. It’s still hard for me to think about this without breaking out into nervous laughter. Really, crazy left-turn guy? REALLY?

I’m on the road maybe an hour or two a day, yet my sense already is that traffic cameras could earn the City and County of San Francisco a non-trivial amount of cash.

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Same planet, different worlds

At the start of winter break we headed up to Santa Rosa for brunch with some of our more distant family members, cousins by blood and marriage whose diaspora covers Northern California from San Francisco to the mountains near the Oregon border. With our youngest still in need of a midday nap and our hosting cousin’s remote mountaintop location, the forecast was definitely a trip by car.

Three-cousin pileup

An unexpected bonus of this trip was our kids’ first real connection with their near-own-age cousins, twins from Truckee that they’d orbited around during their last meeting but never really felt comfortable enough to play with. This time they made friends.

This time, we were also the sole representatives of the urban living contingent. I spent much of my childhood in small towns and as a result I don’t feel enormous curiosity about what childhood there is like. I remember it well. I tend to forget, given that we live in a city with thousands of other people who live in cities, that the prospect of raising children in a city is intimidating at best to the many American families who’ve spent their lives in a more rural locale. They envy us public schools that offer instruction in over a dozen foreign languages (and who wouldn’t; our son speaks freakin’ Japanese! And it’s free!) and the class-size reduction grant that his many impoverished classmates secured, but not the lottery that assigns those schools or the neighborhoods where they’re located (and who would).

Actually pretty light traffic on a recent morning drive-to-school day

In addition to asking us about how frequently we fear muggings, which is basically never, as most of San Francisco is simply not that dangerous compared to other cities, they wonder a lot about what it’s like to drive in the city, and to park in the city, as their visits there have been uniformly horrific on these fronts, and I can’t argue with that. Also I would not deny that car break-ins are epidemic in San Francisco and nonexistent on the tree-lined streets of Truckee. For the first time we kind of came to grips with the fact that what with the newfound commitment to riding our bikes, these aren’t often issues for us anymore. But of course instead we got the most common response we get when we mention that we bike with our kids, which is that we might as well open their veins with a straight razor and let them bleed out into the gutter.

The evidence for what is safe by any mode of transportation is difficult to parse. I know from talking to my colleagues at the General that there are intersections in this city so dangerous that they suggest, not totally in jest, that pedestrians wear helmets while crossing them. And of course near us there is the notorious intersection of Masonic with Oak/Fell, which I would prefer not to traverse by any means whatsoever but can rarely avoid. My cousin was killed when her car ran off a rural road. It’s probably safer to go anywhere in the daytime, and to stay inside altogether after the bars close.

Why I prefer the bike: Golden Gate Park bike lane at morning rush hour

I feel pretty safe biking on the separated bike/pedestrian paths through Golden Gate Park. I feel pretty safe leaving the city by car on a weekend at 7 am when our kids have been up already for two hours but no one else is on the road. Beyond these easy decisions, I start to feel like I’m back in my old game theory class with Matt Rabin, who used to insist that we justify how anyone could leave the house in the morning given what he called the 2nd Amendment problem, which is that there might be a lone gunman ready to shoot you right outside, which would be so terrible that it would justify staying at home forever no matter how remote the probability of it actually happening was, which no one does. Although I think he may have taken this particular intellectual problem out of regular rotation after the Beltway sniper attacks.

Anyway if the car v. bicycle commute were solely a question of personal safety while traveling on roads, the decision would heavily favor the car. Riding inside a padded can among other padded cans is safer than riding on a glorified paper clip among padded cans. But instead it’s entangled with questions of cost, the opportunity to leave the road entirely, avoiding traffic, skipping yet another sedentary activity, the pleasure of the experience, and the chance for our kids to spend some time outdoors. All of these considerations heavily favor the bicycle.

These discussions of safety, in any context, have grown increasingly tiresome to me after reading The Gift of Fear, which neatly summarizes many fears of violence: “At core, men are afraid women will laugh at them, while at core, women are afraid men will kill them.” Similarly, drivers are afraid that cyclists (and pedestrians) will annoy them, while cyclists (and pedestrians) are afraid that drivers will kill them. I don’t respond to the threat of being killed by men, although it is quite real, by never leaving the house, choosing to live in a “no Y chromosomes allowed” commune, or having a sex-change operation. And I don’t respond to the threat of being killed by drivers by getting off my bike.

Increasingly I have begun to feel that one of the biggest issues in our lives was watching our lives slowly being strangled away, as we shuttled from one commitment to another, trapped in padded cans, without ever really figuring out where we were headed. We have found that riding our bikes is a chance to step back a little from the expectation that going somewhere is always about getting somewhere, and we find that we enjoy the ride. I don’t think this is unique to life in a city. So far this gain has felt worth the risk and then some. And of course, when our kids aren’t on our bikes they’re often riding the bus, which would win in a head-to-head bus v. car collision in the same way that a car would win in a head-to-head car v. bike collision, and that surely improves our overall transportation safety averages. Granted, it’s rare that a bus crushes a car. But that’s sort of the point.

Anyway, it was especially odd to hear this safety shakedown from someone who in fact rides a bike in a pretty committed way, although his mountain bike’s tires have never been sullied by touching pavement. Instead the bikes ride in a pickup truck (where they’re safe?) Our conversation eventually segued into the question of how to haul around older kids, since letting them ride their own bikes in the city when they got older was something no responsible parent would ever do, evidently, and I said that it was certainly possible at that point to transition to cargo bikes. But I noted that cargo bikes were a bit expensive for most people; many ran up to $2,000 (and I personally think that any price with a comma in it qualifies as expensive, although I suspect that such figures are in our future).

“$2,000 isn’t much to spend on a bike,” replied a man whose bicycles serve the same purpose in his life as a television.

Same planet, different worlds.

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Like flying

On the roof at the California Academy of Sciences

For two weeks at the end of December our kids are off from school, and during this time we always try to stay home with them and act like tourists in San Francisco. A couple of years back we realized that millions of people vacation in San Francisco, so why not us? Instead of fighting crowds at the airport and stores, we now spend the winter break that San Francisco Unified School District offers visiting the sights of the city as defined by our kids. Sometimes that’s Crissy Field and sometimes that’s Rainbow Grocery; sometimes we watch ferries come and go at the Ferry Building and sometimes we visit the dollar stores of Japantown (where more often than not, we run into our son’s classmates and senseis, which always sends the kids into paroxysms of excitement). Our daughter likes the Academy of Sciences and the Conservatory of Flowers; our son likes the Exploratorium and Muir Woods. And everyone else is out shopping, so there are rarely serious crowds.

Swinging two weeks of full days with our kids can be tricky even during the holidays. However one of the mixed blessings of life in an academic medical center is the ability to work any 50 hours of the week I choose. Sure, I have two grants due at the beginning of 2012, but no one cares if I burn the candle at both ends by piling hours of work into the evening and wee hours after the kids are asleep. In the service of preserving a tradition we’ve come to love, that’s exactly what I’m doing. In a rare and unfortunate turn of events Matt’s end of the year schedule is crammed as well. As a result we spent last week switching off unavoidable appointments during our daughter’s naps. It is exhausting but worth the effort.

Luckily for us, our son wanted to go to half-day camp in the afternoons last week rather than stay home and play very quietly while his sister naps, which is what he did last year. A couple of years ago we sent him to afternoon acrobat camp, and that was cool, but it seemed a little over-programmed given that we prefer to put the “break” in winter break. On the suggestion of another Rosa Parks parent–and such recommendations have not failed us yet–this year we sent him to Kids OutDoor Club instead, which basically dumps kids into a field at Golden Gate Park and lets them run around outside (supervised) until they fall over.  They stay outside in any weather short of concussion-quality hail, dreaming up and following personalized nature hikes, climbing trees, and building forts out of sticks. We call it nature camp. My personal feeling is that our kids already spend too little time outside and too much time following other people’s schedules (a situation that has improved somewhat with regular bike commuting), so this all sounded fantastic. And nature camp lived up to its offbeat promise. At the end of the week my son pronounced it the best camp ever.

We’ve been working on getting over our hesitation to ride as a family after dark, so bringing him home from nature camp by bike seemed like an easy transition. Golden Gate Park is flat and has bike lanes on nearly every paved surface.  Parts of JFK Drive have both a (poorly marked) bike lane painted in the street and a (poorly marked) bike lane on the sidewalk right alongside, which I find simultaneously belt-and-suspenders amusing and vaguely annoying. Also, nature camp is close enough to home that we could walk back if necessary. It would be a really long and exhausting walk, true, but it’s feasible.

So on Day 1 of nature camp after our daughter woke up from her nap we loaded up the bikes and headed toward the park. On the way there, stopped at a light, we noticed the martial arts studio where both Matt and the kids take lessons had a class in full swing. My daughter saw her teacher and started waving wildly to her. Now the owner of the studio is an outstanding instructor and that’s why we go, but understandably she runs a pretty tight ship, given that the kids squirm like eels and have all the self-discipline of a litter of newborn puppies. I realized she must never have seen us on our bikes before, because she ran over to the window and waved back wildly at us, grinning as ridiculously as we were. It is not a side of her that we get to see very often.

It is a mystery to me that there are cyclists in this city who don’t stop at red lights. Half the fun stuff happens when we’re stopped.

Although I thought nature camp was a place we might see another family on bicycles, this was not, alas, the case. Thus far our son’s school is the only place where hauling our kids on the bike is viewed as unremarkable, probably because any mode of transit, short of maybe a hot-air balloon, is unremarkable when compared to the triple tandem that our PTA president uses to bring his kids to school.

Both complained of cold, but neither considered putting on a jacket until we suggested it

So on this first day when we rolled up to pick up our son at nature camp we got the usual skeptical looks and mutters about safety from other parents in their cars that make me say that family biking is still a ghetto. But the world is changing because there are now people who call that cutting-edge.  One of them is the director of nature camp, who came over to tell us that we were the coolest, picking up our son on our bikes. This is a man who pretty much defines hardcore as far as I’m concerned, who has spent nearly every day of the last six years outside, on the wrong side of the fog line, wrangling dozens of kids and coaches in either the after-school program or in holiday and summer camps. And he thinks WE’RE cool?

We rode home after dark that evening with our kids singing nonsense songs as we went, and it was like flying.

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SFBC 2011 Holiday Lights Ride

Thus far we have been very reluctant to ride our bikes at night with the kids. Because we are even more outside the mainstream than the average parent carrying kids on a bicycle, who is already, let’s face it, way more than two standard deviations away from any American’s definition of mainstream, we didn’t really pick up riding at all until late fall, heading into winter. Although this is a good way to get great deals on bicycles, and we’re grateful for that, I’m sure that this transition would have been easier if it stayed light later and if we didn’t have to spend time before each ride wrapping the kids up against the wind. That doesn’t really take any longer than putting them in a car seat, but it’s unfamiliar.

My daughter manages to make this look cute

Over time we’ve gotten increasingly comfortable on solo rides, to the point that I was riding home through Golden Gate Park at 9:30pm on Wednesday evenings after my Japanese class, which given that I have good lights no longer seems particularly remarkable to me, but did raise some eyebrows at work when it came up at one point. I have many colleagues who live in the suburbs. (An unexpected bonus of my bicycle commute is that I no longer have to hear daily paeans to the environmental superiority of the Toyota Prius, the bridge-crossing commuter’s vehicle of choice. Granted, I got tired of that because I am envious; a Prius is way cooler than a minivan. For that matter a Yugo is cooler than a minivan.) However when heading out with the kids after 4pm we’ve pretty much stuck with driving. Lately we’ve been feeling ready to expand our range.

As a kick-starter to nighttime riding, and because our son loves riding on the bike and staying up late, we decided to go out on the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition’s Holiday Lights Ride. It seemed like a fun seasonal thing to do now that we’ve mostly given up presents (excepting a couple for the small, long since wrapped). Leaving the house, the kids were already hopped up, especially because they saw that I was carrying several dozen lollipops in the hopes that the unfamiliar sugar rush would keep them awake. We knew that it was going to be a windy ride so in our usual last-minute scuffle I ended up using an emergency Mylar blanket as our daughter’s wind break, which I attached to her seat with a binder clip. Classy! Of course SFBC reps took a photo of this travesty.

I was pretty sure that the ride would start late but we were nervous and thus some of the first people to arrive. And at first the crowd looked pretty scraggly, frankly, made up solely of the kind of hardcore long-time city riders who always made me think that two-wheeled commuting was the exclusive domain of single, childless bike shop mechanics with serious tattoos and dreadlocks who have spent decades carefully curating rust colonies on bicycles that are older than I am. Nice guys, but we never seemed to have much in common. But although we were the first family to show up we were by no means the last. Before we left the Panhandle we’d met a dad with a Yepp mini on the front, another dad with a Yepp maxi on the back, some kids on their own bikes, a dad riding a tandem with his teenage daughter, and a mom and dad riding a tandem with a babyseat on the top tube between them, which was unquestionably the most awesome family bicycle I’ve ever seen. (If I had any hope of being competent enough to take pictures while riding I would post the dozen photos I wanted to take of this family.) Later on we even saw the rarest and most elusive family bicycle setup ever to roam these gritty urban streets: a bicycle trailer. On this particular ride, even I would have been willing to put my kids in a trailer; when you’re riding with 100 other people, traffic and the width of the bike lanes aren’t really issues.

We loved this ride. Every time we go out like this we end up remembering that we’ve forgotten once again how much we love this city. Sure, it was weird to hit a four-way stop as a crowd and figure out how many bicycles should go through the intersection for every turn between cars, and we got spread out pretty quickly due to traffic lights; this wasn’t Critical Mass.  But in addition to being around more family bikes than I’ve ever seen before, there were at least two bicycles set up as rolling speakers blasting holiday tunes, and SFBC volunteers marked all the turns by squatting the intersections and pounding away on what sounded suspiciously like cowbells. Nobody was in much of a hurry, and it quickly became apparent that this event draws a lot of once-a-year riders, because for the first time ever Matt and I were actually passing people on the hills even with our kids on board. The first climb up to Alamo Square seemed pretty daunting, but by the time we hit Pacific Heights the company and the sights made hauling uphill mostly a non-issue. We’ve gotten to be stronger riders (we never had to walk) and the ride was so much fun we eventually stopped noticing the grades. Up, down, it’s all okay.

Of course we couldn’t stay until the end. Our daughter had been so hyped up by the prospect of going out late that she’d missed her nap, and about an hour in started protesting violently whenever anyone complimented her Mylar blanket. “I don’t WANT to have a shiny BLANKET!” she screamed, prompting tandem-dad to say, “What? I don’t see any shiny blanket.” From behind us another couple of voices piped up with, “Nope, no shiny blankets here!” “Nothing shiny at all that I can see!” She subsided with a suspicious glare but passed out a few minutes later, her head listing heavily from side to side as we rode. Pretty much everyone who passed us from then on took a photo of this and showed it to me at the next intersection, but we knew at that point we’d have to peel out early. When we got to Presidio Heights we turned back toward home. Ironically, after sleeping through most of that party on wheels, she woke up again on the dark and silent streets of Golden Gate Park.

Still pining for the wind in its needles

While we were waiting at the light at the bottom of the long hill that takes us home, a man on the sidewalk ran out to the corner. “I saw you guys going the other way a couple of hours ago when I was headed into to the restaurant and I thought you looked great!” he said. “And here you are again just as I’m leaving! How funny is that?”

Happy holidays!

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Herewith, my experience identifying danger and good will while biking in the city

My rush-hour bicycle commute

At the town hall we attended recently, there was mention of cyclists blowing through red lights, and I’ll admit that sometimes I feel like throwing certain people under the bus on this issue, figuratively speaking. This complaint is not made up of whole cloth; I have watched bikes blow through red lights on occasion, although my commute route, which is largely made up of separated bike lanes on quiet streets, does not really draw that kind of cyclist. It is not a route made for people with a lust for danger. (And the flip side, of course, is that making more streets bike-friendly makes people with a lust for danger wander off elsewhere, at high speeds, until eventually, I assume, they experiment with freeway riding and die before reproducing.) At the time the question came up, however, I thought that it was pretty easy to identify a cyclist who is going to blow through a red light or otherwise play by their own rules; some clues:

  1. Not wearing a helmet
  2. Tight pants OR lycra OR extra baggy pants + down jacket on undersized BMX
  3. Fixie
  4. Riding in the Tenderloin

In the opposite corner, obeying traffic laws, you have:

  1. Wearing a helmet
  2. Wearing clothes that could be worn in a traditional office environment (alternatively: naked)
  3. Child seat or trailer-bike
  4. Riding in the rain

Completely unpredictable are: tourists, easily spotted due to their matching bicycles with identical Blazing Saddles handlebar bags.

But this made me think of the flip side: can I classify cars the same way? Yes indeed. Goodness knows I have witnessed no shortage of cars behaving badly, particularly during rush hour, the time of day I am most likely to have moments when I wish I was riding on a giant bus capable of mowing down anything else on the road. And say what you will about Muni drivers’ casual attitude toward punctuality, they have certainly not shrunk from attempting things like that in the past. Cars most likely to break the law in interesting ways, tailgate, run red lights and stop signs, and generally make my cycling experience less pleasant:

  1. Taxis and livery cars
  2. Any car that could be described using the term “German engineering”
  3. Garbage trucks

On the other hand, cars most likely to yield to cyclists/not tailgate/actually wait their turns at a four-way stop sign:

  1. Utility and contractor trucks (e.g. PG&E, Bob the Builder)
  2. Muni buses
  3. Cars with “bicycles in their hair” to quote my daughter (for some reason, cars with “bicycles on their butts” do not qualify for this category)

Hello Kitty does not run red lights

That said, in general I find that even when I’m outside my usual quiet and bike-laned streets, San Francisco drivers are very considerate and friendly, and I say this having missed some cross-traffic on occasion when I started cycling in the city, particularly at poorly-signed intersections at the top of hills (cars come up so fast, relatively speaking). I apologize to my fellow road users and endeavor daily to never do anything similar again. Happily for me, the hardest part of getting used to biking in San Francisco is getting used to the traffic and to a lesser extent, the wind. To my surprise, the hills are currently coming in at only third place. Dealing with drivers is usually not a big problem, at least for helmeted, child-seated, work-clothed me.  City traffic can be scary even with the protection of a 2-ton vehicle and overall most drivers seem to remember that when they see a bicycle.

I’ve lived in many cities now (Seattle in my childhood, Little Rock, Minneapolis, Chicago, Boston, Paris, Munich, the list is much longer but I lose track) and although we settled in San Francisco for professional reasons, part of the reason it’s been such a great place to live is that the city often feels like it’s making an effort to show that it likes us. It’s been true as we’ve wound through some difficult moments (finding housing, having a baby, the public school lottery, all of which ended better than we could have hoped) and it’s true again, as we’ve grown so much closer to it, riding our bikes.

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Christmas tree by bike

Picking the best tree

I never realized until I began reading family bike blogs that there is a whole… thing about carrying home Christmas trees on bikes. Subculture? I’ll admit that it looked wildly cool to me. I am impressionable like that. Granted, Matt is Jewish, but it’s a California Jewishness, where significant proportions of his family haul in pine trees and call it good as long as they use a lot of blue ornaments. Our son identifies as Jewish but would probably have foresworn centuries of faith if that were necessary to get a tree. So we had a weekend morning and we got a tree.

The easy way to move a Christmas tree home by bike, for a given quantity of easy, seems to be to dump it into a box bike. We don’t have one of those. Neither do we have option #2, an Xtracycle Freeloader. However we do have a stubby cargo bike. And we have a lot of bungee cords. Problem? No problem! I proposed before we left that we bring the tree home on the bike and Matt looked at me like I was completely insane. I pointed out that last weekend we’d watched a tree fly off the top of an SUV on the freeway, landing in a shower of fragrant kindling, a sight that made quite an impression (as did watching the couple inside put their faces in their hands as they pulled over). Also the lot isn’t far from home; plenty close enough to walk; I told him if it were a bust he could bike home in less than five minutes and come back with the car. He rolled his eyes and agreed.

Lighter than a first grader!

I walked over with the kids and the stroller, Matt biked over, waiting for us at each intersection. When we got there, my son picked a 6’ tree in less than five minutes; in the next five minutes, two other people asked to buy it (our tree was the best one). After it was wrapped up, the guy working at the lot asked where our car was. We said we brought a bike, and it was sitting right there. He said, “That’s nice” and asked us where our car was. We clarified that we wanted to bring the tree home on the bike that was sitting right there. He looked at us like we were completely insane. Then he tried to stand the tree up on the back deck. Less than a minute later, we had laid it down and bungeed it to the back deck. It was surprisingly solid. “Well, this is a first for me,” said the Christmas tree lot guy, visibly impressed.

Matt biked home, we walked home. When we got back he’d unloaded it, walked it upstairs, and locked the bike in the garage. Easiest Christmas tree shopping expedition ever! No needles in the van to vacuum up, no fighting for parking at the lot entrance (people were already honking at each other when we arrived—happy holidays!) and no stress. Plus we got the usual strange looks from the neighbors. Awesome!

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Bakfiets on our hill!

The other day while I was waiting for the shuttle on campus I saw a mom riding a Bakfiets with a kid on board. I wish I’d had my camera. She was slogging up the hill and looked tired, but I was still astonished, as I would never have imagined that it was even possible to get an unladen box-bike up that hill, let alone one with a kid and several bags inside. I had assumed that even attempting such a thing would result in the kind of exhaustion that leads people to fall right off the bike. I myself have had those moments even on a traditional frame.

When she got closer I saw it had an electric assist! Now there’s a good idea. Wildly expensive, but that would make going up hills with cargo pretty manageable. And it doesn’t resolve the problem of braking on the way down, but maybe there are ways to upgrade the brakes as well; I don’t know. It would probably cost a second small fortune.

I think with my oldest now six years old and tall for his age we made the right decision in not getting a box-bike, but in hindsight an electric box-bike would have been a blast when my two were smaller.

 

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Separated bike ways

Learning about bike lane options

If you take your kids to a city planning meeting, evidently they’ll take your picture.

We attended the SF MTA’s open house for separated bikeways on Oak and Fell the other weekend. Matt commutes along the panhandle of Golden Gate Park, through the Wiggle (“the Wiggle is the Bomb”), and up Market Street to the Financial District. The ugliest part of this trip by far is the three blocks of Oak (eastbound) and Fell (westbound) that separate the panhandle from the Wiggle, although Market Street is pretty intense as well. Advocacy to make this section of the city safer has been going on for years, and the MTA is now proposing separated bikeways on Oak and Fell, which would, not to put too fine a point on it, be awesome. Maybe I’m unadventurous and unwilling to exercise my rights to Take The Lane, but when riding down Market Street with a kid on the back of the bike, I prefer the segregated bike lane to having Muni buses huff at my neck. Oak and Fell, same same, but with a much higher ratio of stressed out car commuters. As this is Matt’s daily commute route, he was pretty interested in the plans.

This was our first visit to one of these, and evidently they were trying out a new open house format instead of a hearing; there were staff there to describe the proposals, swaths of paper on the wall for comments, and maps where people could make specific geographic suggestions (e.g. “get the tow trucks always parked in the bike lane at this corner to go away” or “put mirrors on poles here so cyclists can see cars coming and I don’t have to stare death in the eyes every morning please”). And given that it was held in a school gymnasium, there were lots of balls for the kids to throw around. I’ve been to public hearings before and I assumed that the kids would last 15 minutes at most, but given the format and toys we stayed for almost an hour. An interesting discovery as we’ve begun biking more is how much more willing we are to just drop by places outside of a walking radius if we don’t feel confident the kids are going to have a good time. In the event of meltdown just hop back on the bike, and boom, we’re having fun again.

My daughter’s unwillingness to remove her helmet made it clear that we were there as bicyclists. Self-identified as a competing interest were a handful of local residents; this was my first introduction to people in San Francisco who are hostile to bicycling when they were outside of their cars.

The plans themselves looked good to me; the general outline was to remove a lane of parking on both streets, possibly permanently or possibly just during daytime hours, and make the space a separated bike lane. I thought the proposal to make the bike lanes two-way given that they would both be on one-way streets was crazy, I admit. But even as an occasional driver along these streets, I would love to see a parking lane removed; every time a car tries to park in traffic, it creates a tailback that can go as far back as Golden Gate Park. And there is always, always traffic on Oak.

I think it would be fair to say that residents along those blocks viewed the possibility of having a parking lane removed with less equanimity. One woman in particular asked me how many times I blew through red lights (for the record: never, dude, my kids are on my bike), complained that cyclists should be paying for any street improvements by being forced to register and insure their bikes, complained about the dismantling of the Embarcadero Freeway et al and suggested more freeways in the city (seriously?), and insisted that there didn’t need to be any connection between the panhandle and the Wiggle because cyclists could just use one of the existing sharrows that went up a steep hill. “If you want to bike in San Francisco, you’ll just have to learn to go uphill.” Etc. I suppose if you want to maintain a population of cyclists who are young, fearless, and scofflaws, policies like this would be a good way to ensure that outcome.

My husband and I have never been very attached to cars, having lived without one for years. Even Matt’s parents are a one-car family, as we are now, which always seemed like plenty of car to me, if not too much at times. We pay to park our car and it is definitely not cheap, although I suspect we’re not paying full freight. We have lived places where parking was free to us but I’ve never expected it, certainly not in a dense city like San Francisco. So we found it bizarre to hear people demanding that they be entitled to free parking on the street near their homes, which was the main message I got from the residents attending the meeting. Apparently we are loony. The secondary message from the same people was that they wanted reduced car traffic, which sounded like a good idea to me, albeit completely antithetical to providing lots of free parking. People always over-consume things that are free. This concept is day 1 of any micro-economics class, an easy introductory topic because absolutely no one needs to have it explained. Lots of free parking=lots of driving.

I don’t really mind paying for parking just like I don’t really mind paying for the water and power that we use at home; sure, it would be great for me to pay nothing, but I recognize that these are either limited or expensive resources. In some ways the battle over “free” parking reminds me of the fierce hostility, when I was a child, toward the city’s new garbage pickup policy, which involved paying by the frequency of pickup and the size of the can. You would have thought that producing unlimited garbage and paying a flat rate for pickup was a right enshrined in the Constitution from the spittle-flecked invective hurled at local government during that first year. Now of course it seems totally reasonable to everyone to pay for garbage pickup based on volume (on the West Coast, at least; I have heard, although I still have difficulty believing it, that this is not yet standard practice on the other side of the country—one person told me that even water was unmetered, which I refuse to believe because it is completely absurd, like paying a flat monthly fee for the right to drive into any gas station at any time and fill up anything from a lawn mower to a Hummer). I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word against user fees as long as they are abstract, but the rubber really seems to hit the road when people realize that they’re going to be charged for things that they themselves use.

Regardless, walking into a community meeting to complain about how good life once was back when the Embarcadero Freeway overshadowed the waterfront, plus asking random cyclists how often they break the law, is probably enough of a credibility-buster that I suspect it’s not worth worrying about people like this as long as there is even one person on the other side of the issue who appears to be basically sane (also, it’s probably a demonstration of the dark mirror). If I walked into a room full of strangers and asked everyone there whether they were the one of the drivers who blew through a 4-way stop sign yesterday rather than wait their legal turn behind me, I would, with good reason, be viewed as a crank. I suspect my kids will see separated bike lanes throughout the city as they grow up. Here in the city, there seems to be an increasing recognition that a bicycle on the road is not as much “one less car” as “one less traffic jam.”

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Filed under commuting, family biking, San Francisco, traffic

Our first bike: The Kona MinUte

[February 2012: I have updated our experience with the MinUte here. And also here.]

So, a longtail: even though Matt wasn’t thrilled about the downsides he didn’t have any better ideas. We were getting him the first bike because I had the university shuttle taking me almost door to door, but most longtails seemed to be adjustable enough for two riders if it came to that, and all of them could carry two kids. At that point the only experience we had with longtails was some fellow school parents who liked their Ute. My brother-in-law, a former bike mechanic and bike messenger and our go-to person for all things bike-related, said that he liked Konas and was in fact, commuting on one. He didn’t like the Radish for reasons that I still don’t know enough about bikes to understand or even repeat, and didn’t like the Xtracycle because of what is apparently referred to as “flex” which is a concept I don’t really understand either. Plus he knew that we didn’t have any kind of handiness around bikes or a donor bike, which are apparently good things to have if you want to set up an Xtracycle. Nobody I asked knew anything about the Mundo or Big Dummy (I have since met someone who does know something about the Big Dummy and apparently that bike is awesome, with a price to match).  So I went online to look up Kona dealers and the closest one was the local bike shop that my brother-in-law had been raving about and urging us to visit since we got back from Europe. Okey dokey then, we’d check out the Kona Ute. While I was on the Kona site I figured I’d look up the price of the Ute (although I already knew it was definitely going to be cheaper than the second car we’d grudgingly been saving up for). Under the list of commuter bikes was something I’d never seen before, new for 2012: the MinUte.

Looking at the MinUte online, it was like someone had designed a bike just for us—a longtail with a normal bike’s footprint. Despite that the back deck was only 4” shorter than the Xtracycle deck, which meant plenty of room for the kids. It came stock with two giant bags, and they sat back behind where our son would sit. It had fenders to keep off road crap and mountain bike gears to grind up hills. The limited complaints about its big brother, the Ute, in reviews centered on the aluminum frame and limited cargo capacity (plus some complaints that it wasn’t Xtracycle-like enough that I assume make sense to people who know something about such things). But with our hill problem the lighter weight of an aluminum bike was appealing. Given that we had no desire to haul much more than a kid or two and some groceries, being unable to haul a surfboard, lumber, or 900 bananas wasn’t a big issue for us. Sure, it would be great if the bike came tricked out for commuting with wired lights, a chain guard, and internal gears, but Matt felt that the price, pretty competitive for a cargo bike, more than made up for wrapping up his pants leg on the way to work, and he was thrilled that he wouldn’t have to park it on the street. We are anything but adventurous as a rule but this brand-new bike (a medium tail?) seemed like the bike for us.

We went to Everybody Bikes (a fantastic shop for know-nothings like us despite its high hipster quotient) to check out the bike only to discover that it wasn’t available yet. But the shop did have a Kona Ute and some other bikes to try for size, and Matt liked them. They would be happy to stick on stoker bars and foot pegs for our son when the bike arrived, and our son, for his part, couldn’t wait to try it. Now all that we had to do was wait, and pray that it came in time to solve our soccer pickup problem.

I have since learned that nothing that involves getting a bike ever happens on time (unless you buy something in stock right there off the floor). I still resent this, but I have learned to accept it. If like me, you are new to the world of biking, you might as well know in advance. Your bike will arrive late, and some non-critical parts will probably arrive even later.

Luckily for us, although All Bike Orders Are Late, we only had to do one soccer pickup before it arrived, which we managed with car share. That sucked. But the MinUte arrived. It was missing some non-critical parts. The cargo bags were apparently stuck on a slow boat in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The (aftermarket) foot pegs were no longer in production. But the bike was there and it looked good, and the stoker bars swooped up at the perfect spot for a six-year-old. Matt was ready to take it for a spin: he pronounced it awesome.

Her punches are surprisingly ferocious

Our son was jumping up and down to get on and ride once Matt felt comfortable on the bike. Of course we had to pry our two-year-old daughter off the back deck, where she was already attempting to jump up and down while insisting that she be allowed to ride, because we should have just named her “Danger” and spared everyone the bother of having to figure it out. Our son climbed on board and decided it wasn’t so great after all: the bike was wobbly, it was scary. We bucked him up with memories of biking in Copenhagen, even though he wailed that he wanted to ride on the Bobike Maxi again (a seat he had since outgrown). Matt said he’d ride slowly. They took off and DISASTER. Without footpegs or panniers to block the spokes, our son’s foot, clinging to the bike as tightly as possible in fear, went directly into the spokes, cutting and bruising his ankle. Maybe those missing parts weren’t so non-critical after all. We felt like idiots.

So the first attempt to ride the MinUte ended with our son weeping in pain and fear and howling that he never wanted to go near a bike again. Matt rode home to get the minivan and we went home that way, feeling completely defeated.

We had about three days before the next soccer pickup to convince our son to try the bike again. The bike shop’s mortified owners called to say that they’d found the discontinued foot-pegs on Ebay for us, but it would be a couple of weeks before they arrived. No one had a clue when the bags would arrive. In the meantime we needed some motivation and we needed something to keep his feet out of the spokes.

Motivation came from massive amounts of screen time. We set up a slide show on Matt’s computer made up of shots of them riding in Copenhagen, which helped, but what helped even more was a movie from Car Free Days, showing their son jumping on and off the back deck of an Xtracycle. I could not be more grateful that they posted that movie; we must have watched it 100 times that afternoon. Our son thought it was the coolest thing ever. Something to keep his feet out of the pegs came after he went to bed. I kludged together the world’s most ghetto panniers; a piece of kraft paper folded to make two pockets, held together with duct tape (as noted: not handy).  He could put his feet in the pockets to prevent them going into the spokes until the real footpegs and bags arrived.

The MinUte kludged out with our ghetto duct tape panniers

The next morning we walked the bike down to Golden Gate Park—flat! no cars!—to try riding again. After a day of unrelenting motivational efforts our son was not totally repelled by the idea. We spent the walk talking up the safety features of the duct tape panniers.  (Because he is six this did not meet with the ridicule it deserved.) At the park, faced with the prospect of actually getting on the bike, he decided it wasn’t such a good idea after all. With much prompting, he finally tried it, feet firmly planted in the new duct tape pannier pockets, but immediately wailed that he wanted to get off. Matt lost patience and rode off anyway, leaving us with a dopplered, “NOOO!!!!!!!!” A few hundred feet later, our son was cheering and shouting that he loved riding the new bike. Success! Since then he’s been impossible to extricate from that bike. He is as proud as royalty riding it into school and wrote up his story of learning to ride it for a school project. His teacher assumed that it was fictional, given that everyone else in the class wrote about their superpowers (e.g. flying, invisibility). He now wants his own bike, which we’d previously assumed was months if not years away.

So is the MinUte everything we’d hoped for? Yes and no.

NO: Matt got the larger frame size (20”), and it turns out that it is too large for me to ride. My brother-in-law says that this is a design decision and the frame could easily be modified by Kona to be more adjustable for people of varying heights; whatever the reason, this is a one-person bike in our household. We also had hoped that our daughter could ride on the back deck with our son. This was unrealistic; although there’s plenty of room, she is too young and too adventurous for that to be safe unless she’s strapped into a child seat. The can-do folks at Everybody Bikes could probably figure out a way to convert one of the Xtracycle UteDecks to a MinUte deck (the MinUte deck is 24”, while the Ute’s is 31” and the Xtracycle’s is 28”) and use it to mount a seat for her behind our son, and we might still do that. But if the kids were 4 and 6 instead of 2 and 6, both of them could ride on the deck without adding seats. As expected, this bike isn’t grab-and-go as a commuter; Matt needed lights and he has to strap up his pants. He works in an office with a dress code and no shower, so on days when everyone’s in a suit for foreign visitors, it’s easier to take the train. I think that this would be true for any bike though. The cargo bags, which arrived two months later, lack a shoulder strap so they’re hard to carry around once off the bike. We had initially thought that we’d both get MinUtes, but we now feel that doesn’t make sense given our kids’ ages and our daughter’s need for a child seat.

MAYBE: We are not sure if it will fit on the bus rack, although I suppose it’s a good sign that we haven’t yet had to try. Standard bus racks apparently fit bikes with a wheelbase of up to 46” (I had to look this up) and his frame’s wheelbase is…  46.4” (the 18” MinUte frame’s wheelbase is about an inch shorter). I’ve been told that people have squeezed recumbent bikes with 47-48” wheelbases on Muni racks, though, so, possible? Further updates as events warrant.

All parts on board (it’s not cold, but my son likes looking like a ninja)

YES: There is a lot to love about this bike. Matt has no problem taking the hills with our son on the back and with cargo. Granted, for the first week he came home drenched with sweat every day even after taking the elevator (which doesn’t cover the whole hill). But it’s gotten easier; he now only rarely takes the elevator and doesn’t always need a shower, and we live at the top of a really steep hill (veloroutes says 16% if you take the direct route), a situation that has led to my classifying any city in the world other than La Paz, Bolivia, as “flat.” And as promised, the MinUte is basically the length of a normal bike—my bike is ~68” front to back and the MinUte is ~73”. It fits in the elevator (barely) and it fits in Matt’s cubicle. Matt enjoys riding it to work and finds it pretty nimble, although it’s definitely heavy. He gets a lot of envy and questions from other dads with Trail-a-bikes riding on Market Street, one of the more challenging parts of his route to the Financial District, who say that the bike+trail-a-bike is often frighteningly unstable and that hauling an extra bike length in back is limiting, especially after dropping off the kid. Based on that feedback alone we’re glad we didn’t go with that option (or for that matter, with a trailer). With the foot-pegs and stoker bars the bike looks made for two riders, but when our son’s not on board the bike looks like a heavy-duty commuter; no need to add a child seat. After our son’s drop-off Matt can use the back deck to carry more stuff, not that there’s ever been any need for that given that the bags hold a ton already. When we’re riding together even a single bag swallows everything from extra jackets and clothing to both U-locks to whatever we buy while we’re out, and he can grab things without getting off the bike; it has the capacity of a trailer without any of the hassles involved in hauling a trailer in the city. Our son can easily ride the back deck until middle school if he wants to, and his sister can ride there once he’s an independent rider.

The MinUte isn’t the bike for everyone—I doubt you could fit two child seats on the deck—but we like it very much. I’m sure that it can carry less than a standard longtail, but it holds plenty for a small urban family, and it’s much more adaptable because it fits in small spaces like Matt’s cubicle. For new bikers like us, it’s been a nice entrée into cargo/family biking, precisely because it’s short enough that it’s possible to take it everywhere a normal bike could go. The thought of getting a big bike as our first bike was kind of scary. It is also easy to carry a kid (maybe two) and cargo without having to figure out how to add accessories like a trailer, another thing that felt kind of scary. And it is definitely a conversation starter, particularly with our son on board. Family biking is still enough of an oddity in San Francisco that even at events with valet bike parking, where it’s safe to say you’ll see a lot of bicycle diversity, people are always asking us about our bikes and where we got them. This bike was so much fun for Matt and our son that my daughter and I grew jealous. One day a couple weeks after they’d started riding, my son leaned over at dinner, patted my hand, and said, “It’s okay, mommy. You can get your own bike soon.”

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Filed under cargo, commuting, family biking, Kona, reviews, San Francisco

Choosing a bike

Not suitable for adult riders

We started biking in San Francisco with nothing but the sense that it would be a nice idea. While the SFBC says that 7 out of 10 city residents are bikers, we were one of the few families we knew who didn’t have a bike or three lying around. Actually we did have one bike; my brother-in-law gave our son a balance bike for his second birthday. He eventually learned to enjoy riding it around our old (flat) neighborhood, and we kept it when we moved. Our daughter still likes riding it around the (flat) garage. But a balance bike with 12” wheels that perfectly fits a 2-year-old wasn’t going to get us to school and work.

Choosing a bike was starting to be a critical problem. Before we went to Europe and rediscovered biking, we had been talking seriously about getting a second car. We found the idea pretty depressing, frankly. It would cost a lot of money, which was reason enough to despair. Moreover faculty housing only allows us a single parking space (which was, nonetheless, a big increase from the usual allotment of zero), meaning that if we had a second car we’d have to search for street parking in our neighborhood, which is always flooded with cars looking for hospital parking. And we were one-car people (at most) by nature. We live near public transit and we like walking. Matt works in clean energy and I sit on the campus sustainability committee. We had gone years before kids without a car at all. We had suffered through the daunting San Francisco school lottery to minimize our commutes (old joke: “What does every kid in San Francisco get on their 5th birthday?” Answer: “A new address in Marin.”) We put our daughter in preschool a block from our house.

But we also both have jobs nowhere near each other, and there is no effective public transit option to get to our son’s early start-time school, and it was too far to walk. Matt travels frequently for work, and even with heavy exercise of our car share membership, conveniently located on campus, arranging our lives was getting increasingly difficult. Matt’s travel schedule was ramping up for fall. Moreover, after insistent begging, we’d agreed to sign our son up for soccer in the fall. But his soccer practice ended up being nowhere near any of us, and it was going to run until 5:30pm on a day that we were both in off-site meetings until 5:00pm. It was impossible for us to pick up both kids in time on that timetable with one vehicle. It was time to make a decision.

We had some guidance, thanks to our son’s school, which has a handful of regular bike commuters. Our PTA president brought his two girls to school on a tricked-out Kona Ute, which looked simply awesome. But we don’t have the mad skills to put together custom child seats. They have since upgraded to a triple tandem, and that’s a sight to see. Our principal rides to the district offices on a bike (sparing the parking hassles ordinarily involved with this trip) and at least one teacher is coming to school by BART+bike, but they were riding solo. We turned to the internet, like all parents stuck at home after the kids go to sleep, ending up almost immediately at Totcycle, which helpfully listed a range of options for family biking. Unlike the Danes, this family lived in a place with hills—my hometown of Seattle—which as it happens, narrowed down our options considerably.

"Responsible" parents would not live on this hill (it's steeper than it looks)

The #1 choice in terms of practicality for families with young kids who live where it’s flat and have some dosh is evidently the Bakfiets or equivalent. I loved the idea of having the kids in front, the massive cargo room, and a rain cover, but even the people who want to sell you one say that it’s not suitable for serious hills. One retailer said that he wouldn’t sell to people who lived in San Francisco because even though “responsible” parents knew well enough to avoid steep hills, there would always be some “irresponsible” parents who tried to bomb down one and not be able to stop. As one of the many San Francisco parents who lives on a steep hill and thus cannot under any circumstances avoid it, I found this comment pretty annoying. It was also clear that with this kind of bike all but the strongest riders would end up walking up our hill every night on the way home, which didn’t sound like much fun. In addition, our son, at age 6, was old enough to be getting kind of big for this option, and frankly it was pricey. So box bike: out.

The #1 choice in terms of practicality for families who live where there are hills, already have a bike, and don’t want to drop a few grand is apparently the Xtracycle conversion. You can get two kids on an Xtracycle, even if they’re older, even with a significant age difference, and still move cargo and make it up a hill. Alternatively, if your kids are both young enough, there’s the mama-bike, an idea we loved but that our kids had probably outgrown. But we didn’t have a donor bike to Xtracycle,  and that meant we’d have to buy a bike just to convert it, which seemed like twice the shopping and decision effort. And we are not handy. Alternatively, we could buy a longtail ready-made, like the Ute, Radish, Mundo, or the super-trendy Big Dummy. But for a number of reasons specific to our situation, a longtail didn’t seem ideal. The first was that my husband, who wanted to use the bike to commute to work, had limited space in his office, and a longtail bike wasn’t going to fit. He’d have to take his chances locking it on the street. The second, as pathetic is this is going to sound, is that we had an elevator option. By chance, the university bike cage is at the bottom of the steep hill where we live, while the main campus and hospital are at the top. As a result, bikes are allowed on the elevators. But the elevators are pretty small, and a longtail was simply not going to fit. Finally, we both liked the idea of being able to put a bike on the bus rack in the event of a flat, serious rain, or a wind advisory day. (For the same kinds of reasons, plus hills, we ruled out the Madsen, a bucket bike that lets you store your spawn in the back, which otherwise looked pretty appealing.) Nonetheless, given our desire to haul two kids on a bike and get up and down hills, this looked like our best bet. But because of the downsides, we simply couldn’t get up the willpower to make a decision and actually buy a longtail.

Would you take a trailer on this street? It's a designated bike route!

For a real low-budget option, there’s the inevitable advice to put the kids in a bike trailer, especially if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t mind picking up stuff on craigslist (guilty as charged), and of course, if you already have a bike. There are always lots of trailers on craigslist, which suggests how popular they are to actually use (not very). But people who live in the suburbs seem to love bike trailers, and that’s what Consumer Reports and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend, claiming that the trailer won’t tip over if the bike does, that the kids are somewhat protected if the trailer does roll over, and that the bike is more stable with a trailer than a child seat. Both sources seemed pretty sanguine about the downsides of trailers, namely that they’re hard for drivers to see, that they’re wide enough to make the bike less maneuverable and often wider than a bike lane, that they increase braking time, and that they tip over when you need to turn quickly or hit a bump or a pothole. Some additional downsides that they don’t mention are that road debris gets kicked up into low-riding trailers, that kids can fight like demons in a crowded space without parental intervention, and that in terms of a shared cycling experience, well, there isn’t one. But it’s true that they can carry lots of stuff and keep kids out of the rain. Nevertheless, reading that list of advantages v. disadvantages couldn’t make it more apparent that the people arguing for trailers didn’t live in cities, where drivers and cyclists are always in close proximity, bike lanes are on-street and usually narrow, you always need to be able to turn quickly, and potholes are rampant. Pretty much the only place we’ve ever seen a bike trailer in San Francisco is Golden Gate Park during weekend street closures, and then only on the recently repaved streets. Having spent time in many major cities of the world, I would generalize that to all cities; people who live in cities don’t put kids in trailers. They put them on their bikes. Finally, in case all that wasn’t enough, our son was getting too big for a trailer.

Given our dithering, a lot of people suggested that we try a bike plus trailer-bike for its relatively low cost and  low commitment. We saw a lot of this combination around the city, because it keeps kids from doing dangerous things in traffic and gives some (limited) assist going uphill. We were stuck on the issue of hauling our son. Although at six he is technically old enough to bike by himself, he’d never really learned to ride anything but a balance bike, and personality-wise, we knew he would be slow to pick up riding. Just convincing him to get on the balance bike back in the day had taken several months, and although he no longer fits on it, he is perfectly happy to continue trying to ride it given that he’s put in all that effort. Unlike our daughter, he is naturally cautious, and as a result, has never developed the kind of close and familiar relationship with local ER doctors that she enjoys. “Oh yes,” they say now, every time we return to have yet another heart-stopping injury treated, “It’s the little girl who loves band-aids.” However we knew from experience that he liked being a passenger.  The other issue with our son is that his drop-off and pickup were at different sites; he goes to school in the morning and takes a bus to his off-site after-school program in the afternoon. From a practical standpoint this was fantastic, because his after-school program is across the street from the campus where I work, meaning that I can walk across the street to pick him up and then we could take the university shuttle home. But it meant that we couldn’t bike with him to school and then pick him up and bike home, because we couldn’t get a bike from school to after-school. And he is too big for most bicycle child seats. A trailer-bike would at least fit into Matt’s office because it could be removed, ditto the elevator and the bus rack. But it would be a hassle and we worried that he would be just as reluctant to get on a trailer-bike as any other bike his size. Plus reports from parents suggested that the combination could get pretty tippy. That was the last thing we needed with a kid who was nervous about riding rather than being carried anyway. The more we thought about it, the more the choice seemed clear: our best option was a longtail, and we’d let our son learn to ride when he was ready.  We would suck up the inconvenience and risk of parking on the street, being unable to take the elevator, and being unable to throw the bike on the bus.

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Filed under commuting, family biking, San Francisco, traffic